Yes, sometimes it sucks to be the Queen of Country, at least when you’re Rayna James (Connie Britton). Even her own kids freak out at the prospect of seeing Juliette Barnes (Hayden Panettiere) shooting a video outside their car. Rayna has no choice but to bang down the door locks, but that isn’t going to keep Juliette out of her life for long. Juliette, of course, has her heart set on being taken seriously as an artiste, and that means stealing away Rayna’s righthand man, Deacon Clayborne (Charles Esten). While Juliette is clearly a pouty little brat through most of this episode, when she looks at Deacon and whispers, “I think something about you makes me want to grow up,” I wonder if she just might be tougher for Rayna to run off than I’d hoped.
Of course, Rayna can’t really hold on to Deacon anyway — she’s a married woman, and even if Deacon still carries a torch for her, the reality is that she has kids and a life and a house with Teddy (Eric Close). When Teddy informs her that, as part of his prep work for the mayoral race, she’ll have to take a vulnerability study, you can tell it’s all she can do not to throw a pillow at his head, stomp out of the room and give Deacon a call. Sitting around with a bunch of guys talking about her past isn’t easy, but later in the show it’s a chance for us to get a bit more background on Deacon and Rayna. Yes, she paid for his rehab. And she got married to Teddy while he was in rehab. It’s a scene played out against the backdrop of Juliette singing a song that, yes, she penned with Deacon. The last line, “sometimes good intentions don’t come across so well,” lingers in the air as Rayna walks out of the room. I suspect her relationship with Deacon — with whom she’s going to go out on tour (at least, that’s the current plan) is going to be more of a problem for Teddy soon.
Of course, breaking up Rayna’s tour to nab Deacon for herself is exactly what Juliette wants. She gives the guy a $50,000 guitar, and even though Deacon insists “sometimes a guitar is just a guitar,” no one’s buying that. She shows up at his house. She takes him to her big, green stretch of land once owned by Tammy Wynette for a bout of songwriting and skinny dipping. For Deacon, Juliette is awfully tempting, and she knows it. “You have to focus on what’s in the present and what your future holds,” she purrs as she takes off her shirt. “Like this.” Deacon knows he’s in trouble, and I’m a little disappointed that he doesn’t try a little harder to shake off this vile Lolita, but hey, he’s single and who wouldn’t like a $50,000 guitar?
Juliette’s hard play for Deacon isn’t just about Deacon — it’s as much about getting Rayna’s goat as anything else, and Rayna is just insecure enough these days that she does exactly what Juliette expects. When that expensive guitar is delivered to the rehearsal space Rayna and Deacon are using, of course it ignites a huge fight. “You’re swanning around with Miss Sparklypants while I’m doing all the work!” Rayna screeches, and we all know this is more about Miss Sparklypants than any fair division of labor.
I will say — it’s always a little disappointing when we have two strong female characters and they’re fighting over a guy. As usual. But at least these two women aren’t really hoping to get the guy for keeps. Juliette uses sex as a weapon in her arsenal, and Rayna is trying very hard to keep that particular item out of play.
The current battle between Rayna and Juliette over Deacon goes to Rayna at the Bluebird Cafe, when Deacon invites Rayna and not Juliette to duet with him on stage. Too bad the song, which features both of them warbling, “no one will ever love you like I do,” is a little too raw for both of them. In the end, Juliette may not tear them apart, but there’s a decent chance their own troubled past could be much more dangerous.
The B and C plots for the episode are more of a mixed bag than the reliable Rayna-Juliette battle. Scarlett (Clare Bowen) and Gunnar (Sam Palladio) are told by Waddy White he’ll record their demo, which is sort of like being called up to pitch a game in the big leagues. When Scarlett hems and haws because she doesn’t want her beloved boyfriend Avery (Jonathan Jackson) to be jealous, it’s the kind of infuriating plot that drives the worst kind of romcom. Ultimately, Gunnar manages to get Scarlett to do the right thing (commit to recording the demo), so thankfully this isn’t dragged out for more than an episode.
The battle between Coleman Carlisle (Robert Wisdom) and Lamar Wyatt (Powers Boothe) is more promising. Not only is it great fun to watch these powerful men calmly but firmly declare war on one another, but I’m pretty sure Coleman isn’t going to sit back quietly as Lamar supports Teddy’s campaign opposite him. Rayna is torn between loyalty to Coleman (who is running for mayor) and Teddy (who just threw his hat in the ring), and Lamar can’t wait to put Coleman in his place, even if the battle costs Rayna either a friendship or a marriage. It’s touching when Rayna admits to Teddy she isn’t entirely behind his running for mayor, but she is down with him being happy again. There’s apparently a dark secret in Teddy’s handling of a previous job that led to him losing money and other people going bankrupt, and it’s pretty clear this will come back to bite him. It’s hard not to feel a little bad for Teddy. A man with a child’s name, he seems unaware of exactly how ugly the viper’s den of local politics is, or how he’s being played. I’m hoping that he surprises Lamar and Coleman, but I’m not counting on it.
Rayna doesn’t seem to be much smarter than her husband about power plays, and even though Deacon is loyal to her, she lets Juliette’s machinations get under her skin too easily. When a political wife sincerely asks her if her new album is available at Starbucks, it’s a funny moment but hopefully a little more of a wake-up call to Rayna. Country-pop is the new game in town, and her ticket to viability in an old school, low-fi niche hangs on Deacon (and is, ironically, what Juliette really wants to be doing). She’ll survive, of course, but I hope she doesn’t continue to play so fast and loose with the loyalty of a man who’s free to do as he pleases.
What do you think of Juliette? Do you think Teddy knows what he’s doing? And what did you think of Scarlett’s decision?